Jun 25 2012

The Next Great Awakening, Part 16: “Somehow it just happened that one simple cell got inside another simple cell”

Category: Evolution,Intelligent Design,scienceharmonicminer @ 12:09 pm

The previous post in this series is here.

So, in yet another attempt to account for the fact, discussed previously here and here, that we see no evidence yet of alien life (let alone intelligent alien life), we have this just-s0-story at New Scientist, a story that it seems to me is more conjecture than science:

UNDER the intense stare of the Kepler space telescope, more and more planets similar to our own are revealing themselves to us. We haven’t found one exactly like Earth yet, but so many are being discovered that it appears the galaxy must be teeming with habitable planets.

These discoveries are bringing an old paradox back into focus. As physicist Enrico Fermi asked in 1950, if there are many suitable homes for life out there and alien life forms are common, where are they all? More than half a century of searching for extraterrestrial intelligence has so far come up empty-handed.

Of course, the universe is a very big place. Even Frank Drake’s famously optimistic “equation” for life’s probability suggests that we will be lucky to stumble across intelligent aliens: they may be out there, but we’ll never know it. That answer satisfies no one, however.

There are deeper explanations. Perhaps alien civilisations appear and disappear in a galactic blink of an eye, destroying themselves long before they become capable of colonising new planets. Or maybe life very rarely gets started even when conditions are perfect.

If we cannot answer these kinds of questions by looking out, might it be possible to get some clues by looking in? Life arose only once on Earth, and if a sample of one were all we had to go on, no grand conclusions could be drawn. But there is more than that. Looking at a vital ingredient for life – energy – suggests that simple life is common throughout the universe, but it does not inevitably evolve into more complex forms such as animals. I might be wrong, but if I’m right, the immense delay between life first appearing on Earth and the emergence of complex life points to another, very different explanation for why we have yet to discover aliens.

Read more: ”Timeline: The evolution of life

Living things consume an extraordinary amount of energy, just to go on living. The food we eat gets turned into the fuel that powers all living cells, called ATP. This fuel is continually recycled: over the course of a day, humans each churn through 70 to 100 kilograms of the stuff. This huge quantity of fuel is made by enzymes, biological catalysts fine-tuned over aeons to extract every last joule of usable energy from reactions.

The enzymes that powered the first life cannot have been as efficient, and the first cells must have needed a lot more energy to grow and divide – probably thousands or millions of times as much energy as modern cells. The same must be true throughout the universe.

This phenomenal energy requirement is often left out of considerations of life’s origin. What could the primordial energy source have been here on Earth? Old ideas of lightning or ultraviolet radiation just don’t pass muster. Aside from the fact that no living cells obtain their energy this way, there is nothing to focus the energy in one place. The first life could not go looking for energy, so it must have arisen where energy was plentiful.

Today, most life ultimately gets its energy from the sun, but photosynthesis is complex and probably didn’t power the first life. So what did? Reconstructing the history of life by comparing the genomes of simple cells is fraught with problems. Nevertheless, such studies all point in the same direction. The earliest cells seem to have gained their energy and carbon from the gases hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The reaction of H2 with CO2 produces organic molecules directly, and releases energy. That is important, because it is not enough to form simple molecules: it takes buckets of energy to join them up into the long chains that are the building blocks of life.

A second clue to how the first life got its energy comes from the energy-harvesting mechanism found in all known life forms. This mechanism was so unexpected that there were two decades of heated altercations after it was proposed by British biochemist Peter Mitchell in 1961.

Universal force field

Mitchell suggested that cells are powered not by chemical reactions, but by a kind of electricity, specifically by a difference in the concentration of protons (the charged nuclei of hydrogen atoms) across a membrane. Because protons have a positive charge, the concentration difference produces an electrical potential difference between the two sides of the membrane of about 150 millivolts. It might not sound like much, but because it operates over only 5 millionths of a millimetre, the field strength over that tiny distance is enormous, around 30 million volts per metre. That’s equivalent to a bolt of lightning.

Mitchell called this electrical driving force the proton-motive force. It sounds like a term from Star Wars, and that’s not inappropriate. Essentially, all cells are powered by a force field as universal to life on Earth as the genetic code. This tremendous electrical potential can be tapped directly, to drive the motion of flagella, for instance, or harnessed to make the energy-rich fuel ATP.

However, the way in which this force field is generated and tapped is extremely complex. The enzyme that makes ATP is a rotating motor powered by the inward flow of protons. Another protein that helps to generate the membrane potential, NADH dehydrogenase, is like a steam engine, with a moving piston for pumping out protons. These amazing nanoscopic machines must be the product of prolonged natural selection. They could not have powered life from the beginning, which leaves us with a paradox.

Life guzzles energy, and inefficient primordial cells must have required much more energy, not less. These vast amounts of energy are most likely to have derived from a proton gradient, because the universality of this mechanism means it evolved early on. But how did early life manage something that today requires very sophisticated machinery?

There is a simple way to get huge amounts of energy this way. What’s more, the context makes me think that it really wasn’t that difficult for life to arise in the first place.

The answer I favour was proposed 20 years ago by the geologist Michael Russell, now at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who had been studying deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Say “deep-sea vent” and many people think of dramatic black smokers surrounded by giant tube worms. Russell had something much more modest in mind: alkaline hydrothermal vents. These are not volcanic at all, and don’t smoke. They are formed as seawater percolates down into the electron-dense rocks found in the Earth’s mantle, such as the iron-magnesium mineral olivine.

Olivine and water react to form serpentinite in a process that expands and cracks the rock, allowing in more water and perpetuating the reaction. Serpentinisation produces alkaline – proton poor – fluids rich in hydrogen gas, and the heat it releases drives these fluids back up to the ocean floor. When they come into contact with cooler ocean waters, the minerals precipitate out, forming towering vents up to 60 metres tall. Such vents, Russell realised, provide everything needed to incubate life. Or rather they did, four billion years ago.

Back then, there was very little, if any, oxygen, so the oceans were rich in dissolved iron. There was probably a lot more CO2 than there is today, which meant that the oceans were mildly acidic – that is, they had an excess of protons.

Just think what happens in a situation like this. Inside the porous vents, there are tiny, interconnected cell-like spaces enclosed by flimsy mineral walls. These walls contain the same catalysts – notably various iron, nickel and molybdenum sulphides – used by cells today (albeit embedded in proteins) to catalyse the conversion of CO2 into organic molecules.

Fluids rich in hydrogen percolate through this labyrinth of catalytic micropores. Normally, it is hard to get CO2 and H2 to react: efforts to capture CO2 to reduce global warming face exactly this problem. Catalysts alone may not be enough. But living cells don’t capture carbon using catalysts alone – they use proton gradients to drive the reaction. And between a vent’s alkaline fluids and acidic water there is a natural proton gradient.

Could this natural proton-motive force have driven the formation of organic molecules? It is too early to say for sure. I’m working on exactly that question, and there are exciting times ahead. But let’s speculate for a moment that the answer is yes. What does that solve? A great deal. Once the barrier to the reaction between CO2 and H2 is down, the reaction can proceed apace. Remarkably, under conditions typical of alkaline hydrothermal vents, the combining of H2 and CO2 to produce the molecules found in living cells – amino acids, lipids, sugars and nucleobases – actually releases energy.

That means that far from being some mysterious exception to the second law of thermodynamics, from this point of view, life is in fact driven by it. It is an inevitable consequence of a planetary imbalance, in which electron-rich rocks are separated from electron-poor, acidic oceans by a thin crust, perforated by vent systems that focus this electrochemical driving force into cell-like systems. The planet can be seen as a giant battery; the cell is a tiny battery built on basically the same principles.

I’m the first to admit that there are many gaps to fill in, many steps between an electrochemical reactor that produces organic molecules and a living, breathing cell. But consider the bigger picture for a moment. The origin of life needs a very short shopping list: rock, water and CO2.

Water and olivine are among the most abundant substances in the universe. Many planetary atmospheres in the solar system are rich in CO2, suggesting that it is common too. Serpentinisation is a spontaneous reaction, and should happen on a large scale on any wet, rocky planet. From this perspective, the universe should be teeming with simple cells – life may indeed be inevitable whenever the conditions are right. It’s hardly surprising that life on Earth seems to have begun almost as soon as it could.

Then what happens? It is generally assumed that once simple life has emerged, it gradually evolves into more complex forms, given the right conditions. But that’s not what happened on Earth. After simple cells first appeared, there was an extraordinarily long delay – nearly half the lifetime of the planet – before complex ones evolved. What’s more, simple cells gave rise to complex ones just once in four billion years of evolution: a shockingly rare anomaly, suggestive of a freak accident.

If simple cells had slowly evolved into more complex ones over billions of years, all kinds of intermediate cells would have existed and some still should. But there are none. Instead, there is a great gulf. On the one hand, there are the bacteria, tiny in both their cell volume and genome size: they are streamlined by selection, pared down to a minimum: fighter jets among cells. On the other, there are the vast and unwieldy eukaryotic cells, more like aircraft carriers than fighter jets. A typical single-celled eukaryote is about 15,000 times larger than a bacterium, with a genome to match.

The great divide

All the complex life on Earth – animals, plants, fungi and so on – are eukaryotes, and they all evolved from the same ancestor. So without the one-off event that produced the ancestor of eukaryotic cells, there would have been no plants and fish, no dinosaurs and apes. Simple cells just don’t have the right cellular architecture to evolve into more complex forms.

Why not? I recently explored this issue with the pioneering cell biologist Bill Martin of the University of Düsseldorf in Germany. Drawing on data about the metabolic rates and genome sizes of various cells, we calculated how much energy would be available to simple cells as they grew bigger (Nature, vol 467, p 929).

What we discovered is that there is an extraordinary energetic penalty for growing larger. If you were to expand a bacterium up to eukaryotic proportions, it would have tens of thousands of times less energy available per gene than an equivalent eukaryote. And cells need lots of energy per gene, because making a protein from a gene is an energy-intensive process. Most of a cell’s energy goes into making proteins.

At first sight, the idea that bacteria have nothing to gain by growing larger would seem to be undermined by the fact that there are some giant bacteria bigger than many complex cells, notably Epulopiscium, which thrives in the gut of the surgeonfish. Yet Epulopiscium has up to 200,000 copies of its complete genome. Taking all these multiple genomes into consideration, the energy available for each copy of any gene is almost exactly the same as for normal bacteria, despite the vast total amount of DNA. They are perhaps best seen as consortia of cells that have fused together into one, rather than as giant cells.

So why do giant bacteria need so many copies of their genome? Recall that cells harvest energy from the force field across their membranes, and that this membrane potential equates to a bolt of lightning. Cells get it wrong at their peril. If they lose control of the membrane potential, they die. Nearly 20 years ago, biochemist John Allen, now at Queen Mary, University of London, suggested that genomes are essential for controlling the membrane potential, by controlling protein production. These genomes need to be near the membrane they control so they can respond swiftly to local changes in conditions. Allen and others have amassed a good deal of evidence that this is true for eukaryotes, and there are good reasons to think it applies to simple cells, too.

So the problem that simple cells face is this. To grow larger and more complex, they have to generate more energy. The only way they can do this is to expand the area of the membrane they use to harvest energy. To maintain control of the membrane potential as the area of the membrane expands, though, they have to make extra copies of their entire genome – which means they don’t actually gain any energy per gene copy.

Put another way, the more genes that simple cells acquire, the less they can do with them. And a genome full of genes that can’t be used is no advantage. This is a tremendous barrier to growing more complex, because making a fish or a tree requires thousands more genes than bacteria possess.

So how did eukaryotes get around this problem? By acquiring mitochondria.

About 2 billion years ago, one simple cell somehow ended up inside another.

SOMEHOW?

The identity of the host cell isn’t clear, but we know it acquired a bacterium, which began to divide within it.

Do we really KNOW this?

These cells within cells competed for succession; those that replicated fastest, without losing their capacity to generate energy, were likely to be better represented in the next generation.And so on, generation after generation, these endosymbiotic bacteria evolved into tiny power generators, containing both the membrane needed to make ATP and the genome needed to control membrane potential. Crucially, though, along the way they were stripped down to a bare minimum. Anything unnecessary has gone, in true bacterial style. Mitochondria originally had a genome of perhaps 3000 genes; nowadays they have just 40 or so genes left.

For the host cell, it was a different matter. As the mitochondrial genome shrank, the amount of energy available per host-gene copy increased and its genome could expand. Awash in ATP, served by squadrons of mitochondria, it was free to accumulate DNA and grow larger. You can think of mitochondria as a fleet of helicopters that “carry” the DNA in the nucleus of the cell. As mitochondrial genomes were stripped of their own unnecessary DNA, they became lighter and could each lift a heavier load, allowing the nuclear genome to grow ever larger.

So, are we about to be able to replicate in a lab a way to “somehow” put one simple cell inside another, without killing both?

These huge genomes provided the genetic raw material that led to the evolution of complex life. Mitochondria did not prescribe complexity, but they permitted it. It’s hard to imagine any other way of getting around the energy problem – and we know it happened just once on Earth because all eukaryotes descend from a common ancestor.

Freak of nature

The emergence of complex life, then, seems to hinge on a single fluke event – the acquisition of one simple cell by another.

Hmmm… I suppose it may have been a “single fluke event.” But that doesn’t require it to be an accident, does it?

Such associations may be common among complex cells, but they are extremely rare in simple ones. And the outcome was by no means certain: the two intimate partners went through a lot of difficult co-adaptation before their descendants could flourish.

Something like this may have been the origin of the psychotherapeutic theory of “codependency”…. but I digress.

This does not bode well for the prospects of finding intelligent aliens. It means there is no inevitable evolutionary trajectory from simple to complex life. Never-ending natural selection, operating on infinite populations of bacteria over billions of years, may never give rise to complexity. Bacteria simply do not have the right architecture. They are not energetically limited as they are – the problem only becomes visible when we look at what it would take for their volume and genome size to expand. Only then can we see that bacteria occupy a deep canyon in an energy landscape, from which they are unable to escape.

So what chance life? It would be surprising if simple life were not common throughout the universe. Simple cells are built from the most ubiquitous of materials – water, rock and CO2 - and they are thermodynamically close to inevitable. Their early appearance on Earth, far from being a statistical quirk, is exactly what we would expect.

The optimistic assumption of the Drake equation was that on planets where life emerged, 1 per cent gave rise to intelligent life. But if I’m right, complex life is not at all inevitable. It arose here just once in four billion years thanks to a rare, random event. There’s every reason to think that a similar freak accident would be needed anywhere else in the universe too. Nothing else could break through the energetic barrier to complexity.

See graphic: ”Other worlds

This line of reasoning suggests that while Earth-like planets may teem with life, very few ever give rise to complex cells. That means there are very few opportunities for plants and animals to evolve, let alone intelligent life. So even if we discover that simple cells evolved on Mars, too, it won’t tell us much about how common animal life is elsewhere in the universe.

All this might help to explain why we’ve never found any sign of aliens. Of course, some of the other explanations that have been proposed, such as life on other planets usually being wiped out by catastrophic events such as gamma-ray bursts long before smart aliens get a chance evolve, could well be true too. If so, there may be very few other intelligent aliens in the galaxy.

Then, again, perhaps some just happen to live in our neighbourhood. If we do ever meet them, there’s one thing I would bet on: they will have mitochondria too.

While I appreciate the discussion about the uniqueness of life on earth, I think there is a better explanation than “somehow it just happened.”  Science of the gaps, anyone?  And isn’t it nice to have a theory to explain why we see no evidence of the public works of intelligent aliens, a theory which cannot really be tested by experiment….  and so, a theory couched in scientific-speak that is not scientific, since it cannot be falsified?

Consider….  even if scientists are able to laboriously coax one simple cell inside another, and then cause some further complexity to develop, all that will prove is that intelligent agents can make things happen that may be otherwise impossible.


Feb 29 2012

Repeating an atrocity with “preventive” care

If you read this when it was first posted, check out the three UPDATES made to it since.  Just scroll on down.

As Mrs. Miner wrote in Hey, What About MY Choice?, there is enormous pressure from the medical establishment to do invasive “prenatal testing” (including amniocentesis) under the guise of “preventive care,”  as if killing a disabled child before it’s born is treatment of a medical condition, instead of simply murder of the helpless.

Mark Leach writes in the Washington Examiner about Repeating an atrocity with “preventive care”

President Obama signed “Rosa’s Law,” sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and named for one of her constituents, a little girl with Down syndrome, in 2010.

The law eliminates the phrase “mental retardation” from federal laws and regulations, replacing it with “intellectual disability.” Another law sponsored by Mikulski threatens to eliminate girls like Rosa and my daughter, Juliet, from future generations.

Rick Santorum recently attacked President Obama for the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring no-cost prenatal testing. This mandate is part of Mikulski’s amendment to Obamacare requiring preventive care services for women.

Genetic conditions like my Juliet’s Down syndrome and Santorum’s daughter Bella’s Trisomy 18 can be prenatally diagnosed, but not treated prenatally. The HHS mandate begs the question: How does prenatal testing for genetic conditions that cannot be treated prenatally qualify as “preventive” care?

Obama’s campaign spokeswoman responded to Santorum’s concerns by saying prenatal testing is for the health of the mother and baby and to bring about safer deliveries.

Not so in the case of prenatal testing for genetic conditions. Instead, most women terminate following a positive test result — a decidedly unhealthy and unsafe delivery for the baby.

Indeed, this is the effect of prenatal testing for genetic conditions. Last summer, a report from Denmark predicted the country would be “Down syndrome-free” by 2030, due to its prenatal testing program.

Isn’t that nice.  Europe seems to have learned little of moral worth from its experience with German eugenics programs in the Nazi era.

In Switzerland, 87 percent of all Down syndrome pregnancies are terminated. In France, 96 percent of fetuses with Down syndrome are aborted following a prenatal diagnosis.

This effect is not limited to other countries. California has had a prenatal testing program for Down syndrome since the 1980s. Researchers found that 47 percent fewer children with Down syndrome were born than would have naturally occurred.

They flatly admitted that California’s prenatal testing program’s purpose is to reduce the number of children born with Down syndrome through earlier abortions.

As if we didn’t know that already.  It’s made pretty explicit by the “medical providers” who pressure women to have amniocentesis.  ”Could you live with a Down’s child?” they say.  This is exactly what Mrs. Miner experienced in the glorious people’s republic of California.

Did Mikulski intend for her preventive care services amendment to eliminate children like Rosa, Juliet, Bella and others with genetic conditions from future generations?

Well, yes.  The believers in using abortion to filter out the unfit defend it on a variety of grounds, from financial burden on society to pretended concern about the “poor quality of life” the soon-to-be murdered unborn child would have without the beneficently performed therapeutic dismemberment.

We are left to wonder because, unlike Santorum, Mikulski has not spoken out on this issue. Other voices have so far been silent, too.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton recently stormed out of a hearing on the HHS mandate for birth control. Norton is a co-chair of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus and a mother to a young lady with Down syndrome.

Perhaps she’ll express the same indignation about Obamacare’s policy to prevent children like her daughter from being born in future generations? Likewise, the CDSC lists more than 50 members, including Norton’s co-chairs and fellow parents, Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.

Perhaps, they, too, and many others, regardless of political party, will wonder why a regulation expresses the view that unborn children with genetic conditions should be prevented from being born.

Last century, people who thought themselves upstanding citizens stood by silently while a segment of their society was targeted for elimination based solely on their fundamental nature.

Civilized nations said “never again.” Yet, here we are at the turn of this century dealing with the next challenge to whether we believe our creed that we are all created equal.

Voices are needed to call for the rescinding of the HHS’ mandate for no-cost prenatal testing for genetic conditions as “preventive” care, before we repeat a historic atrocity.

It was always the intent of the Margaret Sangers of the world, and their ideological kin such as Planned Parenthood, to eliminate the unfit from society, hopefully by keeping them from being born in the first place, even if that involved killing them in the womb….  or out of it, for that matter.

UPDATE:

The day has brought an embarrassment of riches from the point of view of pro-life bloggers, but an embarrassment of moral poverty on the part of some “medical ethicists,” who seem to have stood on its ear the meaning of the word “ethics.”  This just in:

Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said the article’s authors had received death threats since publishing the article. He said those who made abusive and threatening posts about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society”.

The article, entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva.

They argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

The authors therefore concluded that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled”.

They also argued that parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, for example citing that “only the 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases” in Europe are diagnosed by prenatal testing.

Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.

“To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”

However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.

They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.

You have to give these infanticide enablers this: they’re very logical in proceeding from the starting point of abortion-on-demand. It was bound to come to this. And it has.

UPDATE #2:

I would blame this on Britain’s apparent desire to self-destruct, but we have our own apologist for the appalling, right here in the good ‘ole US of A, in the form of Peter Singer.  Of course, he’s really Australian, so maybe he doesn’t count as an American.  He came from the Commonwealth, after all, which may soon be commonly Islamic.  Maybe there’s something in the water that people drink in Australia.

UPDATE #3:

At this link, an Australian “ethicist” argues on a radio show in Iowa that

 after-birth abortions should be permitted if parents decide that they want to prevent their child from having a difficult or painful life. One of the reasons many people abort fetuses, she notes, is due to diseases or other deformities. But, some of these disorders are not detected while the child is in the womb. In cases such as this, Minerva and Giubilini argue in their paper, termination of the newborn should be allowed. This sentiment should also apply then to healthy newborns, she says, because some people abort perfectly health fetuses for a variety of personal reasons as well.

Again, this is the logical conclusion of permitting and encouraging abortion-on-demand for any reason at all, or none.  So on the one hand, these “ethicists” are just being reasonable.

Reasonably monstrous, of course….  along with the rest of the pro-abort crowd.


Feb 03 2012

Hey, What About MY Choice? Part 3

In the beginning post of this series, I told the story of how California doctors and medical providers just couldn’t get it through their heads that even though I was a 35 yr old soon-to-be-mom, I did NOT want amniocentesis, because of the risk of miscarriage and the fact that it could not reveal any information I would actually be able to use.  But the medical types were really determined.  In the second post of this series, I told of how a doctor threatened to withhold care from me, and a necessary examination, if I didn’t submit to his attempt to coerce me into “genetic counseling,”  at a minimum, with the obvious agenda of getting me to agree to amniocentesis.

How DARE the doctors make me defend my refusal to have a test that could have resulted in my child’s death!  Imagine the news if “just” one percent of school buses on a given day crashed.  Out of ten thousand school buses, that means that one hundred buses crashed.  Now, imagine the public’s reaction if every child on those hundred buses died.  It’s incomprehensible to imagine such a thing.  When a SINGLE bus crashes and ANY children are killed, the tragedy makes national news.  Yet the medical establishment displays a remarkably cavalier attitude toward the fact that given the prevalence of amniocentesis, undoubtedly many healthy, “wanted” children die every year or are born prematurely.

I have since come to understand another disturbing fact surrounding the aggressive push for prenatal testing: many parents demand these tests.  We live in an age where, as Mark Steyn has stated, parents often put off childbearing until later in life and then have “one designer baby.”  And only one.  As fertility invariably decreases with age, some turn to fertility drugs and/or in vitro fertilization, which can result in multiple fetuses.  No worries, though.  Through a process known as “selective reduction,” the mother can have the “extra” babies killed, leaving her with only one child.  And boy, that kid better be perfect.  If the child fails to meet the consumers’ (aka parents’) expectations, the doctor might well find himself slapped with a “wrongful birth” lawsuit.  The heart-breaking fact is that around 90% of children identified with Down syndrome are aborted.  (It’s worth noting, however, that amniocentesis is not completely accurate, which means that a number of “healthy” children are mistakenly thought to have a genetic defect and are then aborted.)  Given the fact that prenatal life is valued so little, I suppose it’s no wonder I was sometimes treated as a socially irresponsible freak for refusing genetic testing.

My next several visits to the obstetrician were uneventful, except that he kept looking at my chart and saying, “Oh, yeah.  You refused amnio.”  Was my choice really that unusual?  Perhaps so.   During that time, I ran into several women, mostly strangers, pregnant women who would say, “I had to have amniocentesis.”  One even said to me (both of us standing there, pregnant, in Burlington Coat Factory’s baby section), “I’m scheduled for amniocentesis tomorrow.  I really don’t want to do it, but I have to.”  How many women are made to feel that they have no choice?

About nine weeks shy of my due date, I began having painful contractions.  It didn’t appear to be labor, but with my doctor’s recommendation, I decided to take a break from my job as a special education teacher at a local junior high.  A short time later, I went into full-blown preterm labor.  My baby wasn’t handling my contractions very well, so the doctor said they were probably going to have to deliver her early.  Thankfully, labor was stopped by a combination of three different medications.  I was confined mostly to bed for the remainder of my pregnancy and continued taking medication.  Given this precarious situation, I couldn’t help but wonder if an earlier decision to have amniocentesis might have resulted in an extremely premature baby – or even a stillbirth.  I’ll never know, but I shudder when I consider the possibilities.

Finally, the day I had been longing for arrived, and I gave birth to a beautiful full-term baby girl.  Shortly before being discharged, a clerical worker from the hospital came to my room and asked me to sign a form.  By signing, I would be acknowledging that I had received certain types of care in the hospital, as well as during my pregnancy.  I noticed three number codes and asked that each be explained.  When she reached the third code, she said that its numbers stood for amniocentesis.   “I didn’t have amniocentesis,” I sighed.  She looked surprised and then asked, “Are you sure?”

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh.


Jan 29 2012

Hey, What About MY Choice? Part 2

The previous post in this three part series is here.

In the beginning post of this series, I told the story of how California doctors and medical providers just couldn’t get it through their heads that even though I was a 35 yr old soon-to-be-mom, I did NOT want amniocentesis, because of the risk of miscarriage and the fact that it could not reveal any information I would actually be able to use.  But the medical types were really determined.  Read on.

I agreed to have a high-resolution sonogram referred to by my doctor as “Level 4” (L4), to be performed by a different doctor when I was about four months pregnant.  When I called to set up the appointment for this procedure, the nurse on the line began discussing the preparations for amniocentesis.  I patiently explained that I had declined this procedure and would be having the sonogram only.  She seemed quite surprised, but finally said that she would put a notation on my chart so that I would not be “hassled” any further.  (But wait, it was ALREADY on my chart.)  About two weeks later, another nurse called to confirm my appointment for the next day and began giving me instructions regarding amniocentesis.  I told her, a bit less patiently this time, that I had declined amniocentesis and would only be having the sonogram.  She told me that I was scheduled for amniocentesis.  I said, “Read my chart.”  She said, “Come prepared for amnio anyway!”

My husband (aka Harmonicminer) and I arrived at the clinic for my L4 sonogram the next day.  I tried to put all thoughts of large needles near babies’ heads, prenatal child kil …. er, I mean “pregnancy terminations,” etc., out of my head.  I just wanted to see my baby.  I was, of course, hoping the exam would bring good news but was prepared to accept whatever the test might reveal.

The clinic’s high-risk specialist, Dr. Shah, entered the room, glanced at his notes and said, “You’re here for an L4 and an amniocentesis.”  Feeling like a broken record, I explained – AGAIN – that I had thoroughly discussed my options with my obstetrician and had signed the form refusing amniocentesis and genetic counseling.  I had only agreed, on my doctor’s advice, to have the L4 sonogram.

Dr. Shah snapped, “You should not have been ALLOWED to sign that refusal without first undergoing genetic counseling!”  He then said, nonsensically, that amniocentesis was “for my own safety.”  Furthermore, he refused to even do the sonogram until, at a minimum, I subjected myself to “counseling.”  Seriously?!?    Was he actually threatening to withhold medical care unless I submitted to his authority?

I was too upset to endure the heated exchange between Mr. Miner and the doctor, so I agreed to see the genetic counselor down the hall.  I walked in her office in a very unhappy frame of mind, and I let her know that I was there under duress.  To her credit, she was very kind, but the questions were truly useless.  To paraphrase one of the more sophisticated queries,  “So, is there any chance you and your husband are biologically related?”

After signing yet ANOTHER refusal of amniocentesis, I returned to the exam room where the doctor, somewhat begrudgingly, finally did the sonogram.

And there she was, my little SOMEBODY…  not “potential life,” but undeniably a miniature human being with unfathomable potential.  Stretching, moving, kicking, growing, EXISTING.  I may have even seen her make a rude gesture to the doctor.  Way to go, kid.

Part three (the last part of this series) is here.


Jan 24 2012

Hey, What About MY Choice? Part 1

Category: abortion,election 2012,family,healthcare,liberty,science,technologyMrs. Miner @ 4:08 pm

This blog entry is for my daughter Elyse.  You make me smile.  Every day.

I’ve never been into New Year’s resolutions, but around this time each year, without fail, I go into a reorganizing frenzy.  Out with the old, in with the new.  That sort of thing.  Well, perhaps not every year, but most years.  Okay, every decade or so I decide it would be a good idea to throw out copies of bills I paid more than five years earlier, put at least three photos in albums, and pay THIS month’s bills.  THAT sort of thing.

As I was going through various old papers (how do we accumulate so much STUFF?), I came across notes I had written detailing some of what I experienced during my pregnancy with my youngest child (Elyse), now 13, and my relationship with the ….  ahem, medical experts that was often, unfortunately and unnecessarily, fraught with conflict.  You see, even though I had two other children and thought I knew what to expect, my pregnancy was now defined as high risk due to my “advanced maternal age,” and the rules had changed.  Big time.

During my first prenatal visit, I was given brochures outlining the prenatal testing options available for a mature woman such as myself.  The literature I read stated that I had a small chance of having a child with some sort of genetic defect, and my obstetrician, Dr. Alvarez, recommended that I have a simple blood test known as AFP that checked the levels of certain substances found in the blood of pregnant women.  A “screen positive” result could indicate a problem with the developing baby, in which case amniocentesis would be recommended.

If you’re familiar with amniocentesis, you know that it is a somewhat invasive test.  The doctor, guided by ultrasound, sticks a large needle into the mother’s abdomen and then her uterus, in order to extract a small amount of fluid surrounding the baby.  Fetal cells in the fluid are then examined.  This test is not risk free.  The literature I received from my doctor stated that the test carries about a one percent chance of miscarriage.  (By contrast, my chances of delivering a child with Down syndrome were about one in three hundred.) I was not about to take such a risk, particularly with the heartbreak of a miscarriage not even a year earlier.

At my next medical appointment, I informed my doctor that I had decided against AFP, which has a high false positive rate.  I didn’t want to raise any questions that only amniocentesis could answer, and I was unwilling to undergo such a risky procedure as amniocentesis.  He seemed surprised and asked me if I was sure.  I asked if there was any way to fix a problem that amniocentesis might uncover, and he said no, but that I would then have the option of “having the baby or terminating the pregnancy.”  I told him that I would not have an abortion under any circumstances.  This said, I believed that my choice would be honored, and that would be the end of that.  Yeah, right.

In a tone of voice that seemed to suggest he was speaking to a slow-witted child, he said, “You just really need to ask yourself if you could handle raising a handicapped child.”  Doing my best impression of an adult, I responded that I knew that raising a child with such challenges would be difficult, but I could not live with KILLING one.

After more discussion, my doctor and I came to the decision that genetic counseling would also serve no useful purpose, so I signed a form refusing the counseling and amniocentesis.  Doctor Alvarez put a note on my chart so that I “wouldn’t be bothered about this whole amnio thing again.”  Now I really thought that would be that.  Wrong again.

Here is Part 2 in the saga of California medicine trying to stick needles in my abdomen.


Dec 06 2011

The Earth’s wild ride?

Category: God,scienceharmonicminer @ 2:10 pm

I’ve written in Someone To Watch Over Us about how the universe appears to be fraught with dangers to life.   Complex life must be incredibly rare,  because long lasting ecospheres that can support life over billions of years seem to be thin on the ground, as it were.  The article excerpted below discusses the “wild ride” of the Earth’s solar system through all kinds of hazards to life, which include dust clouds, supernovas, black holes, gamma ray bursts, etc.  Scientists are only beginning to gather the kind of data they need to really understand what challenges to life have already affected our solar system and the Earth.  But already, with hundreds of planets discovered around nearby suns, only one seems likely to support liquid water on its surface (if it has any water, which we don’t know, the surface temperature may allow liquid water, based on its distance from its star). 

The Earth seems to have dodged the most deadly bullets so far.  On another interpretation, Someone is perhaps just pushing us out of the way of them.

Earth’s wild ride: Our voyage through the Milky Way

FOR billions of years, Earth has been on a perilous journey through space. As our planet whirls around the sun, the whole solar system undertakes a far grander voyage, circling our island universe every 200 million years. Weaving our way through the disc of the Milky Way, we have drifted through brilliant spiral arms, braved the Stygian darkness of dense nebulae, and witnessed the spectacular death of giant stars.

Many of these marvels may well have been deadly, raining lethal radiation onto Earth’s surface or hurling huge missiles into our path. Some may have wiped out swathes of life, smashed up continents or turned the planet to ice. Others may have been more benign, perhaps even sowing the seeds of life.

A long time ago, in this galaxy but far, far away… the sky is packed with bright stars and glowing nebulae, far denser than today’s tame heavens. But this scene is not to last. A great curving wave of stars picks up the solar system like a scrap of flotsam, sweeping it out into the empty galactic fringes, far from its forgotten homeland.

…….Some measurements imply the sun is richer in heavy elements than the average star in our neighbourhood, suggesting it was born in the busy central zone of the galaxy, where stellar winds and exploding stars enrich the cosmic brew more than in the galactic suburbs. ………

The sky blossoms with brilliant, blue-white young stars, some still cocooned in a gauze of the gas from which they formed. The brightest shines with the light of 20,000 suns, but its brilliance is a warning sign. Soon the star will explode, banishing the night for several weeks. Unlike the life-giving warmth of the sun, this light will bring death.

In a nearby spiral arm of the Milky Way, more than 1000 light years away from our solar system’s present position, lies the Orion nebula, a birthplace of giant stars. Our solar system must at times have drifted much closer to such stellar nurseries. To do so is to flirt with disaster. A massive star burns its fuel rapidly, and in a few million years its core can collapse, unleashing the vast energy of a supernova.

X-rays from a supernova just tens of light years away could deplete or destroy Earth’s ozone layer, letting in harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. High-energy protons, or cosmic rays, would continue to bombard Earth for decades, depleting ozone, damaging living tissue and possibly seeding clouds to spark climate change. Such convulsions might have triggered some of the mass extinctions that so cruelly punctuate the history of life on Earth – perhaps even hastening the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, according to a theory formulated in the 1990s.

Evidence for past supernovae is thin on the ground, although in 1999 German researchers found traces of iron-60 in south Pacific sediments (Physical Review Letters, vol 83, p 18). This isotope, with a half-life of 2.6 million years, is not made in significant quantities by any process on Earth, but is expelled by supernovae. The interpretation is disputed, but if iron-60 is a supernova’s dirty footprint, it suggests a star exploded only a few million years ago within about 100 light years of us.

Planetary scientist Ian Crawford of Birkbeck, University of London, suggests we can look to the moon to find clear evidence of such astro-catastrophes. “The moon is a giant sponge soaking up everything thrown at it as we go around the galaxy,” he says. Cosmic rays from a supernova will plough into the moon, leaving trails of damage in surface minerals that will be visible under a microscope and knocking atoms about to create exotic isotopes such as krypton-83 and xenon-126.

….

The darkness is coming. It starts with just a small patch of starless black, but slowly grows until it blots out the sky. For a half a million years, the sun is the only visible star. As alien dust and gas rains down and pervades our atmosphere, Earth is swathed in white cloud and gripped with ice; a pale mirror to the dark cosmic cloud bank above.

Interstellar gas permeates the Milky Way, but not evenly. The solar system happens now to inhabit an unusually empty patch of space, the local bubble, with only one hydrogen atom per five cubic centimetres of space. In the past we must have drifted through much denser gas clouds, including some more than 100 light years across in whose cold and dark interiors hydrogen forms itself into molecules.

In such nebulae, Earth may have caught a cold. …

We know Earth has suffered such episodes, including big chills some 650 and 700 million years ago. Their cause remains obscure. It could have been the weathering of mountains that pulled carbon dioxide from the air, or volcanic eruptions, or changes to Earth’s orbit around the sun – or a black cloud in space.

………

The faint red star seems harmless at first, a barely perceptible speck outshone by 10,000 other points of light. But it grows. In only a few thousand years, it waxes to become the brightest star in the sky. Out in the Oort cloud far beyond Pluto, giant balls of ice and rock begin to deviate from their delicately balanced orbits and move in towards the sun. Soon the skies teem with comets – ill omens for Earth.

The moon’s pitted surface records aeons of bombardment. Apollo astronauts found many samples of ancient melted rock, revealing that around 4 billion years ago the inner solar system was being pelted with massive bodies.

This “late heavy bombardment” is thought to have been caused by movements of the outer planets Uranus and Neptune disturbing asteroids in the Kuiper belt, where Pluto resides. Incidents in our galactic odyssey would have unleashed other storms of comets and asteroids. Passing stars or dust clouds might have triggered a one-off spike in the bombardment. A more regular pattern of new crater formation could reflect a repeated encounter on our path around the galaxy – passing through a particularly dense and unchanging spiral arm, for example.

To find out we would need to visit a variety of surfaces, taking small rock samples to determine their ages, and then making a careful census of craters to see how the impact rate has fluctuated. Buried soils could help, says Joy. “We might find fragments that would tell us what type of asteroids or comets were hitting the moon.”


Sep 29 2011

ET coming to eat us?

Category: humor,illegal alien,national security,science,technologyharmonicminer @ 9:55 am

If ET exists, we may or may not want to make contact.

Here’s more on the topic:

Hoping to Contact Extraterrestrials? Think Again

Astronomers who have been searching for extraterrestrial intelligence for decades are suddenly saying such an encounter might not be a happy one.

Aliens might destroy life on Earth or plan to eat or enslave humans if they sense our civilization was expanding too rapidly and could harm others, according to a latest study.

The scenario was brought up in a joint study by Seth Baum, Jacob Haqq-Misra and Shawn Domagal-Goldman.

Researchers say extraterrestrials might behave the way we humans have behaved whenever we have discovered other previously unknown intelligent beings on Earth, like unfamiliar humans or chimpanzees and gorillas.

“Just as we did to those beings, the extraterrestrials might proceed to kill, infect, dissect, conquer, displace or enslave us, stuff us as specimens for their museums or pickle our skulls and use us for medical research,” according to the study, which was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Why should we worry about aliens? The simple reason is that if they can find us, they would be more advanced than humans.

“A core concern is that ETI will learn of our presence and quickly travel to Earth to eat or enslave us,” the study says.

The authors speculate that extraterrestrials might try to spread their beliefs through evangelism or to use humans for entertainment.

Just because an ETI civilization holds universalist ethics does not mean that it would never seek our harm. This is because ETI may be quite different from us and could conclude that harming us would help maximize whatever they value intrinsically.

For example, if ETI place intrinsic value on lives, then perhaps they could bring about more lives by destroying us and using our resources more efficiently for other lives. Other forms of intrinsic value may cause a universalist ETI to seek our harm or destruction as long as more value is produced without us than with us.

Aliens also could harm or destroy us if they believe we are a threat to other civilizations. Rapidly expanding civilizations may have a tendency to destroy other civilizations in the process, just as humanity has already destroyed many species on Earth.

Though this scenario might seem unlikely given the likelihood of our technological inferiority relative to other civilizations, we would be at the receiving end if ET thinks that our resources could be used more efficiently to generate or retain other civilizations.

Perhaps ETI is observing rapid and destructive expansion on Earth and could become concerned at our trajectory.

ETI might prefer that our civilization change its ways to survive, but if it doubts that our course can be changed, it may seek to preemptively destroy us to protect other civilizations from us.

A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilization may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand.

“Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilizational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere (e.g. via greenhouse gas emissions), which therefore changes the spectral signature of Earth,” the study’s authors say,

Human civilization affects ecosystems so strongly that some ecologists have begun calling this epoch of Earth’s history the anthropocene, a new and unprecedented phase in the planet’s history.

If the goal is to maximize ecosystem health, then perhaps it would be better if humanity did not exist, or at least if it existed in significantly reduced form. Since at least some humans believe so, invoking universalist ethical principles, then it is likely that ETI might agree.

But since we don’t know what kind of aliens we will end up meeting, there are certain steps humans should take when making contact, the authors urge. Those steps include not sharing details of our biology and DNA structure, and not appearing as if we are rapidly expanding off the Earth.


Sep 29 2010

The Next Great Awakening Part 15: Doubting doubt

Category: philosophy,science,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:00 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Doubts linger over godless multiverse

STEPHEN HAWKING’S new book The Grand Design sparked a furore over whether physics can be used to disprove the existence of God. But few have noted that the idea at the core of the book, M-theory, is the subject of an ongoing scientific debate – specifically over the very aspect of the theory that might scrap the need for a divine creator.

That the laws of nature in our universe are finely tuned for life seems miraculous, leading some to invoke divine involvement. But if there is a multiverse out there – a multitude of universes, each with its own laws of physics – then the conditions we observe may not be unique.

Hawking suggests that M-theory, the leading interpretation of string theory, calls for a multiverse. Others are divided over the strength of this link. “My own opinion is that we don’t understand the theory well enough to be able to say whether there is one single universe or a multitude of universes,” says M-theorist Michael Duff of Imperial College London.

………………..

For now, it is hard enough to test string theory, let alone M-theory. Two weeks ago, Duff and his colleagues made some progress by using string theory to make predictions about the behaviour of entangled quantum bits (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.100507). This demonstrates that aspects of string theory can be tested in the laboratory, but won’t reveal if it is “the right theory to describe all the elementary particles, the big bang – the ‘grand design’ as Stephen describes it”, says Duff.

“It’s dangerous to pin your beliefs on any theory of physics,” Duff adds, “because it might turn out to be wrong. But if Stephen wants to stick his neck out, I wish him good luck.”

But wait!  I thought all right thinking scientists knew that God was a myth, the universe was a grand accident, or has always been here, and humans are accidental bags of water, carbon, nitrogen, calcium and trace elements, containers who process data.  Though why anyone should think the universe is a place where semi-intelligent meat machines should even find it vaguely possible to comprehend its deepest mysteries is beyond me.  Why should the universe be understandable?  And if it is, why should WE be able to understand it with brains evolved to run from carnivores on the savannah, hunt small game and gather fruit and nuts?

The notion that the universe is in principle understandable by primates sharing 95% to 98% of genes with chimps is itself reasonably laughable….  unless, of course, we were designed to be able to understand an intelligently designed universe.

In any case, string theory is not at this time falsifiable, as the article above points out….  which means that, by the rules of those scientists who deride “intelligent design theorists,” it isn’t even science, yet.  It’s just interesting mathematical speculation mixed with philosophy.  M-theory is even farther from fitting the definition of science that is most commonly used, namely testable, falsifiable theories backed with data.

If and when string theory or M-theory become scientifically supported theories, neither will disprove the existence of the Creator, of course.  How could they?  And it is encouraging, at least, that some scientists are becoming skeptical of the ability of science to answer all questions, or to remove any consideration of teleology in the universe.

And as others have pointed out, theories of multiple universes can’t answer final (or fundamental questions) at all.  All they can do is shove them back to an “earlier” “time,” and make it clear that the Creator is even more magnificently powerful than anyone understood.


Aug 16 2010

The smartest person in the room who knows nothing?

Category: philosophy,religion,science,Scripture,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:37 am

There are those folks who like to pretend their superiority by claiming to function only on reason, not having any need for faith.  They delude themselves, of course.  No one functions only on what they know, or can prove in a scientific or rationalist way.  Most people make most of their decisions on faith, whether they allow themselves to admit it or not.  In that, I include enormous, life determining decisions, like what to study, whether to study, whom to marry, what life path to choose, what values to live by, and so on.  Even science cannot be shown BY science (or any rational process) to be the valid path to truth.  At the link there is a discussion about that, and other things.

My point here is a little different, though.

Some people seem to delight in not being sure about anything, because that way they think they aren’t responsible for anything.  It’s rather as if they think ignorance of the law is a defense (including natural law and revealed law).

Neither natural laws nor God are impressed by feigned ignorance, however, even when you have maintained the pretense for so long that you’ve forgotten it’s just a script, so that you can safely play your role as a person who isn’t sure of anything much.  Shoot, I’ll bet some people could pass a polygraph examination, convincing the operator they’re “agnostics,” sort of the ultimate triumph of method acting.

I’m afraid you’ll have to decide.  You can’t sit on the fence forever.   You won’t live that long.


Aug 14 2010

Maybe we can go really fast after all?

Category: science,spaceharmonicminer @ 8:10 am

Rethinking Einstein: The end of space-time Much more at the link.

IT WAS a speech that changed the way we think of space and time. The year was 1908, and the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski had been trying to make sense of Albert Einstein’s hot new idea – what we now know as special relativity – describing how things shrink as they move faster and time becomes distorted. “Henceforth space by itself and time by itself are doomed to fade into the mere shadows,” Minkowski proclaimed, “and only a union of the two will preserve an independent reality.”

And so space-time – the malleable fabric whose geometry can be changed by the gravity of stars, planets and matter – was born. It is a concept that has served us well, but if physicist Petr Horava is right, it may be no more than a mirage. Horava, who is at the University of California, Berkeley, wants to rip this fabric apart and set time and space free from one another in order to come up with a unified theory that reconciles the disparate worlds of quantum mechanics and gravity – one the most pressing challenges to modern physics.

Since Horava published his work in January 2009, it has received an astonishing amount of attention. Already, more than 250 papers have been written about it. Some researchers have started using it to explain away the twin cosmological mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. Others are finding that black holes might not behave as we thought. If Horava’s idea is right, it could forever change our conception of space and time and lead us to a “theory of everything”, applicable to all matter and the forces that act on it.

OK, I admit it. Whenever I run across one of these stories suggesting Einstein might be wrong about some aspect of relativity, I get excited, because if he was wrong about something, maybe he was also wrong about the speed of light being an absolute speed limit for everything except maybe “communication” between entangled particles and other exotica.

Because if we can’t ever go faster than the speed of light, it’s hard to see how interstellar travel ever becomes popular, and I like the idea of somebody someday zipping over to the next star system for lunch.

Of course, if interstellar travel really is impossible, we don’t have to sweat visits from unfriendly aliens who got mad at us when we didn’t write, and blew up the solar system, or just sterilized it.  On the other hand, if there AREN’T any aliens, or unfriendly ones anyway, it would be cool to terraform a few dozen other earthlike worlds (if there are any) and get a little lebensraum.  And it’s a cinch there aren’t any earthlike worlds (besides earth, of course) in our solar system.

So maybe I’m cheering the relativity revisionists, hoping one of them will find a loophole in the cosmic speed limit.

Who needed dark matter anyway?  And there is already enough dark energy in faculty meetings to keep the universe flying apart for the indeterminate future.


Next Page »